Tramp stamps, racism and "icky" pronouns: 8 new life tips from "Bell Curve" author Charles Murray

If you had to defend this idiocy, you might abruptly cancel an interview with Salon at the last minute, too!

Published April 8, 2014 4:40PM (EDT)

Charles Murray          (Crown Publishing Group/Peter Holden Photography)
Charles Murray (Crown Publishing Group/Peter Holden Photography)

Weeks after Rep. Paul Ryan was slammed for citing his writing,The Bell Curve” author Charles Murray is out today with a new book: “The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’t of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life.”

Murray, whom Ryan cited as a source demonstrating “this tailspin of culture in our inner cities in particular,” and the Southern Poverty Law Center labels a “White Nationalist,” addresses his new book to readers who are “in or near your twenties,” “intelligent,” “ambitious,” and “want to become excellent at something.”

He is most famous for co-authoring “The Bell Curve,” a 1994 book (in the author's’ words) “about differences in intellectual capacity among people and groups and what those differences mean for America’s future.” Describing what they called “the cognitive differences between races,” Murray and co-author Richard Hernstein wrote that “It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences.” They also claimed, “There is some evidence that blacks and Latinos are experiencing even more severe dysgenic pressures than whites, which could lead to further divergence between whites and other groups in future generations.” (They describe “a dysgenic effect” as “a downward shift in the ability distribution.”)

Murray was supposed to conduct an interview with Salon (having agreed to it last week), but abruptly dropped out hours beforehand. In the interview's place, here are some of his new book's eight most memorable life tips:

On Tattoos: “As for tattoos, it does no good to remind curmudgeons that tattoos have been around for millennia. Yes, we will agree, tattoos have been common – first among savage tribes and then, more recently, among the lowest classes of Western societies. In America, tattoos have until the last few decades been the unambiguous badge of the proletariat or worse – an association still acknowledged in the phrase tramp stamp.”

On Pronouns: “The feminist revolution has tied writers into knots when it comes to the third-person singular pronoun. Using the masculine pronoun as the default has been proscribed. Some male writers get around this problem by defaulting to the feminine singular pronoun, which I think is icky.” Instead, “Unless there is an obvious reason not to, use the gender of the author or, in a cowritten text, the gender of the principal author. It’s the perfect solution.”

On jobs: “Here’s the secret you should remember whenever you hear someone lamenting how tough it is to get ahead in the postindustrial global economy: Few people work nearly as hard as they could.”

On subordination: “But in all cases when you have problems in your interactions with your boss, there’s one more question you have to ask yourself: To what extent is your boss at fault, and to what extent are you a neophyte about supervisor-subordinate relationships? ... What you see as arbitrary, insensitive, or hostile behavior on the part of your boss may be nothing more than the way in which supervisors have been treating subordinates from time immemorial.”

On “problematic”: “For example it is appropriate to say that a proposed voter ID bill is problematic because it risks disenfranchising more eligible voters than it prevents fraudulent votes, but not to say that it is problematic because it is racist and offensive. That may be your sincere opinion, but people on the other side can be just as sincerely convinced that it is not racist and offensive and neither side can prove the other wrong.”

On “flaccid nonjudgmental nonsense”: “If he says instead, ‘Marriage works for some people, not for others; it’s no big deal what people choose,’ then my point about artistic merit is unchanged, except more emphatic: You mustn’t indulge yourself in that kind of flaccid nonjudgemental nonsense … To say something like, ‘Marriage works for some people, not others; it’s no big deal what people choose,' is as idiotic as saying that it’s a matter of opinion whether a Titian painting is superior to artistic dreck, except that in this instance there is a moral dimension to your obligation to think through your judgments that doesn’t burden your judgments about art.”

On marriage: “For ninety-five percent of the population, showing up for family means making oneself available for marriage.”

On manners: “The two who have embodied great manners for me have been William F. Buckley, Jr., the late conservative writer, and his brother James, a former senator and retired judge.”

(William Buckley wrote, and as late as 1989 defended, the National Review’s 1957 editorial citing the “cultural superiority of white over Negro.”)

Murray also argued in 2000 that while one “cannot imagine” a presidential candidate saying “a lot of poor people are born lazy,” in fact “It is almost certainly true” that “the population below the poverty line in the United States has a configuration of the relevant genetic makeup that is significantly different from the configuration of the population above the poverty line.”

In a much-cited 1994 review in the New Yorker, evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould accused Murray and Hernstein of “pervasive disingenuousness,” “blatant errors” and “violation of all statistical norms that I’ve ever learned,” in the service of “anachronistic social Darwinism.” (Responding to criticism from Paul Krugman last month, Murray wrote that “Our sin was to openly discuss the issue, not to advocate a position,” and that those making “allegations of racism” never accompanied them with “direct quotes of what I’ve actually said.”)

Six days after a publicist for Murray’s new book scheduled an interview with Salon, a spokesperson for the American Enterprise Institute, where Murray is a fellow, notified us Monday that Murray “is not willing to do the interview this afternoon and will not be rescheduling.” The spokesperson wrote that “Given Salon’s body of work he doesn’t think he’s going to receive a fair shake.”

He also shared a blog post from Murray objecting to a recent Huffington Post story quoting him stating that “No woman has been a significant original thinker in any of the world’s great philosophical traditions” and that “Social restrictions undoubtedly damped down women’s contributions in all of the arts, but the pattern of accomplishment that did break through is strikingly consistent with what we know about the respective strengths of male and female cognitive repertoires.” Murray criticized reporter Laura Bassett for not quoting from that essay’s subsequent passages, which he noted said that “Women have their own cognitive advantages over men, many of them involving verbal fluency and interpersonal skills,” and also that “women are more attracted to children than are men, respond to them more intensely on an emotional level, and get more and different kinds of satisfactions from nurturing them.”

By Josh Eidelson

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